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Idaho budget-writers OK nearly 6 percent public schools hike

February 20, 2018

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho’s legislative budget writers approved a nearly 6 percent increase — roughly $100 million — to the state’s public school budget on Monday.

That would bring the public schools budget for fiscal year 2019, which starts in July, to about $1.78 billion.

The budget includes a boost in discretionary funding for school districts, something requested by State Schools Superintendent Sherri Ybarra, who has said school districts should be able to direct their funds to their own top-priority needs.

It also increases funding for classroom technology by $10.5 million. But the bulk of the increase — nearly $42 million — is going toward the state’s program for boosting teacher salaries through a “career ladder plan.”

Overall, the approved budget came in slightly lower than both Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s recommendation and Ybarra’s request. But that didn’t dampen Ybarra’s enthusiasm, who said she was really excited about the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee’s sign-off.

“It’s great — another $100 million for public schools,” she said. “We have a plan to follow, we’re all on the same page.”

Sen. Shawn Keough, a Republican from Sandpoint and the Senate co-chairwoman of the budget committee, said the discretionary funding increase is because lawmakers continue to hear from superintendents across the state that they need more flexibility in their budgets.

“I think the folks that work on this budget work really hard, and they listened to our school districts and our school boards,” Keough said.

Some school board representatives weren’t so thrilled, said Sen. Carl Crabtree, a Republican from Grangeville. Idaho consistently has some of the lowest per-student education spending in the nation.

“We’re talking about cutting taxes and there are districts that can’t afford to operate,” he said. “So they’re not happy. But money doesn’t solve all problems. We’re trying to be responsible and still show progress in schools.”

The budget is made up of seven different bills, all of which must still pass the House and Senate and get the governor’s signature before they become law.

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